Security forces clash with protesters in this frame grab taken from September 28, 2009 footage.

© 2009 Reuters

(Dakar) - Guinean authorities should immediately free all those detained without charge following the bloody crackdown on an opposition rally on September 28, 2009, or charge them with a specific criminal offense followed by a fair trial, Human Rights Watch said today. The group also supported the call by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to establish an international commission of inquiry into the violence, in which an estimated 150 or more demonstrators were killed.

"The depth of impunity enjoyed by Guinea's security forces was on full display this week," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The Guinean authorities should immediately free or charge the people who have been locked up and permit a full inquiry into the violence to root out those responsible."

Witnesses, aid workers, and diplomats interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that the security forces continue to hold tens of demonstrators, including opposition party members, in military camps at Alpha Yaya Diallo and Koundara, the PM-3 Gendarme detention center, and the headquarters of the Mobile Intervention and Security Force (Compagnie mobile d'intervention et de sécurité, CMIS). Access to these facilities is limited, and conditions for detainees are largely unknown.

Opposition party leaders said that tens of their members, including a high-level official of one party, were still being held in military detention. Several people told Human Rights Watch that they had to pay for the release of their friends and family members. One man described having to "negotiate" with a soldier of the elite Red Berets to secure the release of a close friend held in the Koundara military camp:

"We didn't know where my friend was at first, but later a Red Beret informed us he was in Koundara. He and I grew up together. I would do anything to get him out and they know that. We're in the process of negotiating with the soldier to get him out."

Another witness described having paid policemen at the CMIS headquarters 100,000 Guinean francs (about US$20) to release his brother.

According to credible sources, not one of those detained since the September 28 violence has been brought before the courts, in violation of international and Guinean law. Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Guinea has signed and ratified, states that anyone arrested must be informed at the time of the arrest of any charges and also must be brought promptly before the courts. Absent any charges, Guinea's Code of Penal Procedure, 1998, article 60, limits the time a detainee may be held before being brought before judicial authorities to 48 hours. An extension of 48 hours - for a total of 96, or four days - is allowable only with the intervention of a public prosecutor or investigating magistrate.

Human Rights Watch also expressed strong support for forming an international commission of inquiry into the crackdown against the political opposition, led by the United Nations with the involvement of the African Union and ECOWAS. On September 29, ECOWAS called for an inquiry "in collaboration with" the AU and UN to identify the persons responsible and take necessary measures to address the situation. The Guinean authorities in principle agreed to the commission on September 30.

"An international commission of inquiry is urgently needed to shed light on the Guinean government's deplorable actions this week," Dufka said. "For an inquiry to be impartial and effective, the African Union, UN, and key stakeholders like the EU and US should begin by throwing their full support behind it."